By Brian Spano PrepsKC Staff Writer
PAOLA, Kan. – Even a torrential downpour that soaked the field at Paola High School before and during Friday night’s Kansas Class 4AState Football Playoffs wasn’t going to dampen the Panthers’ goal. It actually helped them avenge a week one loss to Baldwin, defeating the Bulldogs 21-6, but more importantly move on to the semifinals against Louisburg next Friday.
The field was pretty saturated before the game as heavy rains came in during the late afternoon. It let up near the beginning of the game, but that wasn’t saying much as a sharp, stout wind whistled in from the north. The conditions deteriorated from there.
“They were bad,” Paola head coach Mike Dumpert said of the game conditions. “We and Baldwin share a similar philosophy in that we really tailor-make our offense for games like this, this time of year, and that’s why we run what we do. So, when the weather gets bad in November, we’ll be prepared for it.”
These two Frontier League rivals were just two of four remaining in the quarterfinal round. It’s a testament to how good and tough that conference has been this season.
The Panthers (9-3) were definitely ready for it. On their first drive running back Skylar Hawkins bolted through the muck for 71 yards and the score. Little did Dumpert and gang know at the time, it was all the Panthers would need.
“We knew we had to step up and not worry about the conditions,” Hawkins said. “For our backs, we couldn’t juke anymore. That’s what I had a problem with. We had to run straight up the field.”
Baldwin (10-2) got on the board on the first play of the second quarter with a four-yard run from quarterback Ryan Rogers. They went for two, but came up unsuccessful.
Paola added two more scores about 1:30 apart. The first was set up by a blocked punt from Trent Teuscher. On the first play from scrimmage, Tyler Henness went in from five yards out. Then on Baldwin’s ensuing drive, Tyler Hieber tipped a Rogers pass that eventually fell into his hands. He rumbled 24 yards for the touchdown.
Coming in to the game, the weather was going to dictate each team’s game plan. It was which team was going to make the fewest mistakes and which would be able to capitalize on those mistakes that would get the upper hand.
Even though both teams trudged for more than 200 yards on the ground, the Panthers were the team that was able to adjust and find success in the mud and chalk up one team on their revenge list.
“It’s awesome,” quarterback Tanner Staats said of the win. “They came in and beat us. We got better through the season, a lot better. We really wanted to win, really bad, all of us together.”
Staats, a sophomore, has played quarterback for just a few days as he has filled in for injured quarterback Jeremiah Daniels. Even with the win, it probably wasn’t the most ideal situation for him to come in and play.
“The conditions tonight (stunk). It was cold and rainy and windy. It was terrible, but we were able to run our game. We’re mudders. We like the mud.”
Next week, the Panthers get a shot at avenging another Frontier League rival when they host undefeated Louisburg and play for a shot at the state championship game.
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